Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Humanities & Social Inquiry


Mechanistic explanation is often held to be necessary for providing causal explanations within the special sciences. A countervailing push for non-mechanistic explanations, often appealing to dynamical models, has been met with criticism from mechanists, who claim these dynamical explanations are incomplete unless reduced to mechanisms. This mechanist critique incorporates the widespread view that mechanistic explanations are objective explanations, and hence possess exclusive causal explanatory power for the special sciences that trumps dynamicists' efforts. The mechanist{dynamicist debate has subsequently featured prominently in arguments over the desirability of E-approaches to cognition|such as enactivism|versus traditional cognitivism. While traditional cognitivist explanations describe computational mechanisms, E-approaches tend to explain cognitive phenomena by invoking dynamical models. Yet, if mechanists are right, it follows that dynamical explanations of cognition are incomplete, and the explanatory power of the E-approaches is rendered suspect. My purpose in this thesis is to defend dynamical explanations and argue they are not always sensibly improved via reduction to underlying mechanisms. I also cast doubts on attempts to use mechanism to integrate accounts of explanation and cognition. First, I develop an account of dynamical explanation for cognitive science based on an even-handed application of interventionism. Second, I show how dynamical causes are not always reducible to mechanistic explanations. Third, I discuss problems with recent attempts to use mechanistic explanation to integrate theories of cognition. Fourth, I argue, similarly, that attempts to integrate mechanisms into enactive cognitive science have not been successful. Finally, I argue that mechanistic standards of explanation are not objective, derived from nature, and value-free, as some proponents claim.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.